Making Sense of the Mike Wang News

Posted February 2nd, 2010 at 4:00 pm

Both EA Sports and 2K Sports have now presented their spin on the Mike Wang departure from EA and return to 2K. EA states that NBA Live will continue with a sim focus while 2K is attempting to make Live look bad while boosting their own cred. As with most things of this nature the truth likely lies somewhere in between the the extremes being presented.

When Mike Wang left 2K to go to EA he cited reasoning that NBA 2K had hit a ceiling and the game wouldn’t be able to make big improvements from year to year. Now that he’s parted from EA he and a few of his 2K development team members have launched a scathing attack with the goal to discredit NBA Live and the structure of EA Sports. Given that the public animosity is nothing new between these two sides the motivation behind it has to be considered. Still there is surely some truth behind the comments and frustration being communicated.

Ultimately right now this looks like a move made more to bury NBA Live than to improve NBA 2K. Whatever traction Live had gained over the past year and a half has taken a hit because the guy driving those gameplay advancements ditched the series. However he is going to a game where the current gameplay is a perceived strength not a weakness. What NBA 2K has suffered from instead is poor quality control and a terrible online experience.

With references made to EA wanting to change the focus of NBA Live, Wang is insinuating that the game is going away from sim and towards arcade. That may be partially true but it depends on perspective. It is hard to believe that EA would want Live to become an arcade game when they have NBA Jam coming down the pipeline. The NBA restricts and requires certain things of them which is why they had separate licenses for the sim offerings and arcade offerings in the past. So the changes could be more along the lines of a push for accessibility or a feature set that doesn’t mesh with the sim gameplay.

It makes some sense to tweak the direction of NBA Live. With the competitor having the hardcore sim market cornered they have to find a way to differentiate and attract other consumers. That being said they can’t alienate the current fans of the series either which is a risk when any change is made. Poor sales are always going to lead to things being reevaluated. It should come as no surprise that Live would pushing a different angle and that NCAA Basketball would be canceled. Sales drive those decisions.

Thing is the vast majority of gamers will never know about this story and would never care who works on what game. They are going to make purchase decisions the same way they always have. Considerations such as loyalty, comfort, new features, demo, word of mouth, and so on will remain.

I criticized both sides for bickering when 2K started with an attack on Live 10’s patch and then Live responded with a tacky blog highlighting consumer discontent with 2K10. However I have a hard time thinking that EA shouldn’t respond to the comments that have been made. They can’t just sit around and let this all sink in if they truly believe they are being misrepresented.

I’ve said it many times before but this really is a make or break year for the NBA Live franchise. If the sales aren’t encouraging it is at risk of being cut. Regardless of beliefs on which game is better most appreciate that there is competition between the two games which has pushed innovation and improvements. I don’t think anyone would be pleased if the market went from five sim basketball options each year to just one in the matter of three years.